For motorcycle riders, America’s roads have never been more deadly. That’s not an exaggeration. There were 5,458 motorcycle fatalities in 2020. Our analysts found that’s not just a 9% increase from 2019, it’s also the highest number of motorcycle fatalities ever recorded.

Key findings:

  • Louisiana, South Carolina and Mississippi have the highest rates of motorcycle fatalities.
  • Nearly 95% of fatalities involved alcohol.
  • Motorcycle fatalities increased by 9% in the last year and 17% since 2010.
  • Helmet usage for riders with a passenger dropped 15 percentage points over the last year.

To find the most dangerous states for motorcycle riders, our analysts looked at motorcycle fatalities from 2010 to 2020. We found that motorcycle fatalities were heavily influenced by three factors: alcohol, climate and helmet use.

Alcohol use and motorcycle fatalities

Motorcycle deaths involving alcohol

Alcohol was involved in 79% of motorcycle fatalities in 2019. In some cases, the person killed was below the legal limit, however, 28% of fatalities involved someone who was legally intoxicated, and in 17% of cases, the person killed had a blood alcohol content (BAC) level nearly twice the legal limit.

Our analysts found that alcohol use while riding was especially prevalent in certain states. Alcohol was involved in 100% of fatal crashes in eight northern states. Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Montana had the highest numbers of fatal crashes where someone was legally or severely intoxicated.

Motorcycle deaths involving alcohol
State Total fatalities involving alcohol % of fatalities involving alcohol (0.01 or more) % of fatalities where BAC was 0.08 (legally intoxicated) % of fatalities where BAC was 0.15 or more (severely impaired)
U.S. total 3,974 79.3% 27.6% 17.0%
Rhode Island 13 100.0% 53.8% 30.8%
Massachusetts 46 100.0% 43.5% 30.4%
Montana 23 100.0% 39.1% 34.8%
West Virginia 28 100.0% 39.3% 28.6%
Connecticut 46 100.0% 39.1% 21.7%
Idaho 25 100.0% 36.0% 28.0%
Iowa 44 100.0% 38.6% 20.5%
Wyoming 15 100.0% 33.3% 26.7%
Illinois 137 99.3% 34.8% 20.3%
Texas 410 98.6% 35.3% 20.4%
Minnesota 44 95.7% 30.4% 26.1%
New Hampshire 28 93.3% 26.7% 16.7%
New Jersey 79 92.9% 32.9% 15.3%
Nebraska 23 92.0% 28.0% 24.0%
Louisiana 79 90.8% 33.3% 20.7%
Ohio 145 89.5% 30.2% 18.5%
Virginia 91 89.2% 31.4% 23.5%
Maine 24 88.9% 29.6% 25.9%
Colorado 89 86.4% 27.2% 23.3%
Hawaii 17 85.0% 25.0% 20.0%
Washington 76 83.5% 28.6% 15.4%
Alabama 77 82.8% 29.0% 20.4%
South Carolina 124 81.0% 29.4% 17.0%
Nevada 45 80.4% 25.0% 17.9%
New Mexico 44 80.0% 27.3% 16.4%
Oregon 45 78.9% 26.3% 14.0%
Kansas 32 78.0% 29.3% 17.1%
Delaware 14 77.8% 27.8% 16.7%
Michigan 103 76.9% 28.4% 15.7%
New York 104 76.5% 24.3% 15.4%
Oklahoma 52 76.5% 25.0% 19.1%
Wisconsin 65 76.5% 27.1% 17.6%
Indiana 96 75.6% 27.6% 16.5%
Tennessee 117 75.5% 27.1% 18.1%
California 355 74.9% 25.9% 15.8%
Arizona 129 73.7% 26.3% 14.3%
North Dakota 8 72.7% 27.3% 18.2%
Florida 427 72.3% 25.2% 16.2%
Maryland 54 72.0% 24.0% 16.0%
Missouri 83 67.5% 23.6% 11.4%
Alaska 4 66.7% 16.7% 16.7%
North Carolina 136 65.4% 23.1% 13.5%
Pennsylvania 112 63.6% 22.2% 11.4%
Georgia 105 61.8% 22.4% 12.4%
Utah 20 58.8% 20.6% 11.8%
Mississippi 23 57.5% 20.0% 7.5%
Arkansas 35 54.7% 18.8% 12.5%
Kentucky 48 52.2% 17.4% 13.0%
South Dakota 7 50.0% 14.3% 14.3%
Vermont 2 25.0% 12.5% 0.0%

The most dangerous state for motorcycle riders

Motorcycle fatalities in the u.s.

Climate plays an important role when looking at the most dangerous states for motorcycle riders. We found that warmer, southern states with weather conducive to riding have the highest rates of motorcycle fatalities. Louisiana is the most dangerous state for motorcycle riders. But South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas and North Carolina all have nearly double the fatality rates of northern states like Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia.

Motorcycle fatalities by state
State # of fatalities in 2019 Fatality rate per 10k motorcycles Fatality rate per 10k motorcycles
U.S. total 5,014 6.1
Louisiana 87 21.1
South Carolina 153 13.1
Mississippi 40 12.7
Texas 416 11.8
North Carolina 208 11.1
Arizona 175 10.9
Florida 591 10
New Mexico 55 9.1
Missouri 123 9
Alabama 93 8.6
Tennessee 155 8.4
Georgia 170 8.3
Kentucky 92 8.2
Nevada 56 7.5
Maryland 75 6.6
Delaware 18 6.4
West Virginia 28 6
California 474 5.9
New Jersey 85 5.7
Colorado 103 5.5
Rhode Island 13 5.4
Connecticut 46 5.4
Michigan 134 5.3
Virginia 102 5.3
Oklahoma 68 5.3
Wyoming 15 5.2
Maine 27 5.2
Indiana 127 5
Hawaii 20 5
Pennsylvania 176 4.8
Nebraska 25 4.6
Kansas 41 4.4
Illinois 138 4.4
Oregon 57 4.2
Ohio 162 4
Washington 91 3.9
New Hampshire 30 3.8
Arkansas 64 3.8
Idaho 25 3.7
New York 136 3.5
Utah 34 3.2
Wisconsin 85 3
North Dakota 11 2.8
Massachusetts 46 2.8
Vermont 8 2.6
Iowa 44 2.3
Alaska 6 2.1
Minnesota 46 2
South Dakota 14 1.1
Montana 23 0.7

Motorcycle helmet laws

Motorcycle helmet incidents in the U.S.

Wearing helmets saves lives. Recent studies show that wearing a DOT-approved helmet reduces the risk of head injury by 69% and the risk of death by 42%. Despite these facts, many states don’t require helmets, and helmet use has declined by 2% nationwide.

What’s especially concerning is that helmet use has decreased the most in the South, an area that already has the highest rate of motorcycle fatalities. We also found that riders are significantly less likely to wear a helmet when they have a passenger.

Motorcycle helmet use
Category Helmet use in 2019 Helmet use in 2020 Percentage points change 2019-2020
Motorcycle riders 75.8% 68.6% -7.2
Motorcycle passengers 48.0% 71.5% -24.5
Solo rider 74.0% 69.3% -4.7
Rider with passenger 79.7% 65.0% -14.7
Region Helmet use in 2019 Helmet use in 2020 Percentage points change 2019-2020
Northeast       74.1% 77.0% 2.9
Midwest 43.4% 53.7% 10.3
South 74.6% 69.8% -4.8
West 83.7% 85.0% 1.3
Urban areas 67.8% 67.4% -0.4
Rural areas 76.5% 71.0% -5.5

Motorcycle helmet laws vary from state to state. We found 18 states where all riders are required to wear a helmet, 29 that require them depending on age and three with no helmet laws at all.

Motorcycle helmet laws and deaths by state
State # of deaths where rider was wearing a helmet # of deaths where rider was not wearing a helmet Helmet law
U.S. total 2,972 1,862 N/A
Alabama 78 15 All riders
Alaska 4 2 17 and younger
Arizona 77 84 17 and younger
Arkansas 27 32 20 and younger
California 437 28 All riders
Colorado 48 54 17 and younger
Connecticut 15 28 17 and younger
Delaware 10 8 18 and younger
Florida 280 303 20 and younger
Georgia 151 15 All riders
Hawaii 5 14 17 and younger
Idaho 15 10 17 and younger
Illinois 37 100 No law
Indiana 32 89 17 and younger
Iowa 9 35 No law
Kansas 13 28 17 and younger
Kentucky 24 68 20 and younger
Louisiana 69 10 All riders
Maine 7 20 17 and younger
Maryland 66 7 All riders
Massachusetts 28 0 All riders
Michigan 62 61 20 and younger
Minnesota 13 33 17 and younger
Mississippi 33 5 All riders
Missouri 106 12 25 and younger
Montana 9 14 17 and younger
Nebraska 21 1 All riders
Nevada 38 3 All riders
New Hampshire 15 14 No law
New Jersey 68 14 All riders
New Mexico 17 32 17 and younger
New York 122 11 All riders
North Carolina 186 19 All riders
North Dakota 4 7 17 and younger
Ohio 45 116 17 and younger
Oklahoma 23 42 17 and younger
Oregon 46 8 All riders
Pennsylvania 85 87 20 and younger
Rhode Island 9 3 20 and younger
South Carolina 35 115 20 and younger
South Dakota 6 6 17 and younger
Tennessee 130 20 All riders
Texas 207 187 20 and younger
Utah 16 16 20 and younger
Vermont 6 1 All riders
Virginia 91 11 All riders
Washington 89 2 All riders
West Virginia 19 9 All riders
Wisconsin 31 54 17 and younger
Wyoming 6 8 17 and younger

Riding a motorcycle is inherently more dangerous than other popular forms of transportation. But that doesn’t mean we have to make it more dangerous. Alcohol is involved in an alarming number of fatal crashes, and helmet use is declining in places where it should be increasing. There’s an old story about why you’ll never see a motorcycle parked outside of a psychiatrist's office that only motorcycle riders will understand. Riding is fun, freeing and relaxing. Let’s put on the helmet, put down the beer and ride safely.

Methodology

Motorcycle fatalities were calculated using NHTSA traffic safety statistics from 2010 to 2020. The fatality rate was calculated using 2019 fatality numbers per 10,000 registered motorcycles because 2020 fatality statistics are not yet available on a state-by-state level.

The number of alcohol-related motorcycle fatalities was calculated using 2019 NHTSA data. Legally intoxicated is defined as having a BAC level of 0.08%. Severely impaired is defined as having a BAC level of .015% or more.

Additionally, the number of fatalities where the rider was not wearing a helmet was compared to the number of deaths without a helmet. This was paired with helmet laws per state from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).